Mid-nineteenth century Americans, according to Stanford University historian Richard White, sought security and independence, not an accumulation of wealth. Indeed, extreme wealth was commonly viewed with great suspicion: as socially harmful, the cause of poverty, and the root of destructive relations of dependency. That view ultimately yielded to a Gilded Age celebration of wealth. But those earlier ideas about wealth and poverty have never fully lost their public resonance. In the last election cycle, both presidential candidates acknowledged that the American dream is about economic security and equal opportunity, not personal riches.

White’s article is the first product of a new collaboration with Stanford’s Bowen H. McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society. Each year the center, directed by political philosopher Debra Satz, pursues a topical theme indepth, bringing the insights of scholars, artists, and practitioners to bear on that theme. This year’s subject is the ethics of wealth. We are working with the Center to bring you more on this theme in coming months—in print, with online videos at bostonreview.net, and in Web features. (Find more about the Center’s work at ethicsinsociety.stanford.edu.)

We focus on this tension between extreme inequality and democracy elsewhere in this issue, too. This tension has been a persistent challenge of Latin American politics. After a century of reforms—with halting efforts to build stable democracies and expansive individual rights—and well more than two decades after the restoration of electoral democracy, the results are decidedly mixed. Power remains highly centralized, corruption remains widespread, and millions of people are on the economic and political periphery.

So we invited three leading Latin American political thinkers—from Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina—to reflect on current challenges to Latin American democracy. What are the sources of hope? And what needs to be changed? The three essays converge in emphasizing the importance of new forms of democratic participation. What needs to be changed are not the declarations of rights, but the configurations of power, which, as Roberto Gargarella argues, preserve a nineteenth-century political model. Leonardo Avritzer explores the promise of Brazil’s experiments in direct citizen participation in national governance. For low-income Brazilians, these innovations offer a more hopeful future. And for all democracies, they may suggest a promising model of citizen engagement beyond the voting booth.

Also in this issue: Philip Cohen takes down the media myth about “the end of men,” and Elizabeth Hand digs into the current wave of women’s crime writing.